Category Archives: bloodshed

NOVELLA

(The story’s continuing…image is a picture of a ruined European fort in Mannar)


BALARAM
Again, the old man sighed loudly, wringing his hands and shooting the young lieutenant a weary look. Narasimha turned a corner and walked to the left, out of sight. His thin hand caught Balaram’s arm firmly as the doors opened out into the courtyard. Huge, battlemented walls rose up in all directions around the three men, and a light rain began falling. The inter-monsoonal rains were not everyone’s best friend. Balaram looked around nervously as the harbormaster groped the air.
“I can’t see that well. I’m fifty, though I may not look it,” he added and smiled warmly. “So, how well do you know that man, Ganathipathy? And must I say it’s an honor to be standing here with you? I never made it past being the captain of a few vessels during my best years. I wish I had your vigor and courage when I was young, because I regret every day at not being able to command a great squadron like you do now.”
Balaram gave him a look of pity, but at the same time was rather exasperated and embarrassed all at once.
“Like I said, how do you know that commander? I take it he is”-
“Strange?” echoed Balaram rather loudly. “He is known for his unorthodox methods on the field. Honestly, he prefers to be out on the battlefield than in a little office safe in a fortress or with a governor or the Emperor drawing up strategies. But by Krishna, his plans hardly go awry. Recently though he’s had a few disasters and near-misses as far as his career was concerned. But I’m sure you don’t want to waste your time on this? A busy man such as yourself?” His helmet came away in his hands as both he and Harihar supported the old man between them on the climb to his office.
“Oh, I adore long stories, my son!”
The office was small, but it looked comfortable enough for the old harbormaster. He caught hold of his desk as he pushed himself firmly into his seat. The silk cover of the little orange cushion felt pleasant beneath his weight.
On it were his seals, all with the carved image of a tiger, although there were one or two bulls and elephants around, and a small store of ink. His styluses were arranged in perfect harmony, beckoning his trembling hands. A flurry of tiny orange fruit flies buzzed around a small, perfectly cut mango on a little silver tray. An array of documents and a small, rather old but beautiful copy of Shakuntala
It was accompanied by a tiny, polished brass statue of Shiva-Nataraja.
A sheathed sword was placed against the wall, supported by two iron struts. Instantly, Balaram’s eyes flew towards the huge object. The heavy metal hilt of the mighty old weapon was inlaid with ivory; he guessed that this old man must be insanely wealthy from all his years of service.
“So tell me more about your friend.”
“Oh, right, my apologies, sir. Narasimha and I have been friends back in Rameshwaram since the day we were very small. He’s from a powerful and wealthy Brahman family, and his father was a trader in silk, and a retired military instructor, may the gods bless his soul.”
“We used to train together almost every day. He, my sister and I would play together for hours on end on the beautiful beaches there. I mean, it’s truly wonderful! I presume you’ve been there? It’s like a little slice of paradise on earth. No mountains of any sort! And I can tell that he loved it there, and given the choice, he would never have lived. But there was that one time…I knew that he had to be joking when he told me. We were twelve and his father’s friend, I think his name was some Kamalan, or something, had got a new horse from foreign traders who disembarked there. It cantered along the seashore at sunset. So beautiful, it was. That horse would shine in the sunset, its skin brimming with sweat. Of course, Kamalan was kind enough to allow us to ride his favorite horse. I used to love the horse, but Narasimha absolutely enjoyed riding it as well. Sometimes he’d circle the whole island until it was sunset. I loved that he was enjoying himself, and he soon learned to train horses effectively as well. But…in the depths of my heart…I felt like that bloody creature had torn us apart!”
“He was my only friend, you see,” he explained wearily. “And for three years, that creature was in his possession. I hated its sandy skin and its great power, so I…that night…”
His eyes were brimming with tears as he spoke. His mind wandered back to a moonless night, a night when the ghosts of the mighty guardian of the ancient forests, Hanuman, and his wild Vanara troops still scurried around the tiny yet sacred island. A long-buried memory, of darkness painted with blood that was forcing itself out through the edges of his mind. Balaram’s hands came together in deep thought. His fingertips trembled as he steadied himself. Thoughts of a terrifying scream shot through his memory.
Blood seeping onto the hay-strewn floor of the stable as the animal finally succumbed to the attack. In this battle between man and beast, it was a boy who had triumphed. The stench of his own vomit poisoned the air as the divine horse lay there, twisted and bloodied, its entrails spilled out on the floor in the manner of thick snakes.
His trembling young hands flung down the rusty-bladed weapon as he cried aloud into the night.
The animal’s face still bore the same mask of abject wide-eyed horror as the boy continued to hack away at its neck despite his tears. The madness in his eyes was cast in the faded black mirrors set in the skull of the poor horse, and the boy only knew one thing for certain; he was a now a monster in his little community. His words, though, were simple and cloaked with the same shroud of darkness:
“I murdered it. In its sleep.”
He saw Harihar and the old man staring at him and felt like a bull locked in the sights of a hunting tiger. Their eyes held a mix of pity and anger towards Balaram.
After a few minutes, his cheeks and lips trembled slightly. “But there’s…more to it.” His own eyes looked wearily at the two men.
“I thought I’d be welcomed by Narasimha’s tearful face, and perhaps some verbal abuse. But most of all, I thought that I could be his shoulder to cry on. I mean, I never left any indication that it was I who’d killed the horse! But the next morning, I got nothing.”
His eyes widened in fear.

“I tried to look for the slightest trace of sorrow in him. Every minute of the day, my sister and I spent with Narasimha. We studied together, I sparred with him. His face was just as it always was! He smiled at us, spoke to us. No tears came from his eyes. The more I looked at him, the more terrified I was. Something must have weighed on his mind, but I saw nothing. It was like that horse had never even existed! It was as if he’d forgotten about the whole thing! And he even went to the stable that morning to take it to pasture. So he saw it, and…and yet, no crying, no care at all for the life of an animal he loved so much. To be honest, he’d never even cried at his grandmother’s funeral. I just thought that he was good at hiding his sorrow. But the more I think about it, it was like he has no ability to feel sorrow. It’s like Narasimha is a hollow shell, dead inside.” 
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VESAK

May…

The fleet of metal dragons roars overhead. They circle the wild, tangled hinterland around the little suburban town…

He was the only person who even thought of stepping outside that night before the celebration. The moon began, slowly, to show itself to him. A pale ghost upon thousands of miles of inky space, it threw fleeting, floating shadows onto the ground at his feet. Visages of mighty, ancient trees, a display of shadow puppets with no strings around him; strange, misleading, harbingers of lunacy.
Warmer lights blink and flicker, tiny orange eyes peeking delicately out of darkened corners that would be otherwise engulfed by endless night.
A celebration.
His family had been preparing themselves, the whole town wanted to pour its heart out today in the watchful shadow of the ancient, inconstant moon. Rosy paper lotuses of light frame floated across the ground as if on a pond, golden lights glowing within their hearts. The vibrancy and spectacles of glowing reds, blues and yellows coming from the forest-buckets of shimmery cellophane which had replaced nightly white jasmines.
Octagonal frames with string hanging down, lights softly glowing behind crisp, tissue paper skin.
A festival of light and beauty.
A celebration in a small place, watched by the holiest of beings in the vault of the Six Heavens. His was a town where every day in the month of May, voices rang out into the sky in proclamation of the Threefold Miracle. Song-like verses and chants rumbled from beneath the roofs of every home here. More village than town perhaps? Still large enough to be lit from head to toe, multicolored stars affixed to wires crisscrossing every home, pole and tree.

Even his parents.
The mighty white concrete dome is clothed in striped flags and banners of warm colors, with string upon string of lights wrapped around from base to apex. A welcoming giant of the gentlest order, it beckoned the devoted crowd hither. Always it was a welcoming sight, the most beautiful sight. This was a special night. The chorus of verses and prayed was louder tonight, the shining heads of monks in saffron robes now multiplied as if by magic.
His parents too were here, lost among the faithful. But the faithless would taint and tarnish this day, writing its history in rotten blood.
The prayers began and ended again and again, a celebration to be heard by the gods.

A  blast of sound!
Fast as lightning, loud as thunder echoes through the chilly night air. It is coming now, a dark goliath and his vicious pack blackening the weeping, helpless moon. They drift in lower.
He and his parents haven’t the slightest clue that the ominous cloak is being draped across the heavens. The thunder of prayer is deafening still…then the flash of light blinds them…
He feels the force…

The thunder grows in tone, the fire spreads across the town in a tsunami of heat and light, a raging wall from hell’s maw that sweeps across the verdant lands of mortals! Roars from the aerial marauders! Hundreds of blood-curdling screams of people being swept away, picked up from the charred earth by claws of flame, or burned in their sleep. They are washed away by this tidal wave of flame, hundreds of faces wiped clean off the slate they call their country, merely tiny figures, living dolls nameless before the god of this apocalypse!
His parents are running, it is a marathon almost. They are retreating from the blaze that creeps ever closer, a fiery tiger stalking menacingly its innocent prey. Another man is consumed, overwhelmed by the ever-advancing wall of death…
His mother is next, picked screaming off her feet, skin melted away by the cruel, swirling vortex-and her husband has his flesh flung away and his bones turned to horrible imitations of firewood. The infernal dogs have ravaged the land! They howl into the air, breaths of ash in a mushroom cloud that keeps spreading on forever it seems, a blanket that the sky cannot drape itself it but has no choice. The moon hides behind its cloudy sheet in terror.

He is the only one alive.

The dying blaze cleans the festival grounds, a pair of terrible jaws scraping the earth of life with tongue of flame.
He runs.
He is ALIVE.
Thunder boils the air above him as the leaves of the forest shiver in fear. The blast radius is immense. His hometown in now wiped away from the face of the earth. He is too young to know of the monsters who soared past just a while ago. Why is he here? Is it the faithful or the faithless who died? Why is he safe? Who saved him? Is he faithless or faithful? He has not one answer. He never will. The black sky is painted red with the blood of the dead. The devil has eaten off a chunk of his world; never will the earth here be good for humanity; it will always be that haunted graveyard, nameless men and women, their life-strings torn away by some dastardly puppeteer.
This inferno is not the seven-circled nightmare of Dante. It is hell on earth.
All he knows is that the forest beckons him.
The black maw is comfort now. He does not know where he will go. All he knows is, he will go on, he will have to go on…

May…

The fleet of metal dragons roars overhead. They circle the wild, tangled hinterland around the little suburban town…